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Right to Vote

U.S. Constitution

Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution grants each state legislature the authority to prescribe the times, places and manner of holding elections for federal senators and representatives. Article II, Section 1 grants each state legislature the authority to appoint in such manner directed electors of the President of the United States. The 14th Amendment ratified in 1868 declares all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. The 15th Amendment ratified in 1870 prohibits denying citizens of the United States the right to vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The 19th Amendment XIX ratified in 1920 prohibits the United States or any state denying citizens of the United States the right to vote on account of sex. The 24th Amendment ratified in 1964 abolishes the use of poll or other taxes in national elections. 

Federal Legislation

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy tests and provided for the appointment of Federal examiners (with the power to register qualified citizens to vote) in those jurisdictions that were "covered" according to a formula provided in the statute. In addition, Section 5 of the act required covered jurisdictions to obtain "preclearance" from either the District Court for the District of Columbia or the U.S. Attorney General for any new voting practices and procedures. Section 2, which closely followed the language of the 15th amendment, applied a nationwide prohibition of the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of race or color. The Voting Rights Act directed the Attorney General to challenge the use of poll taxes in state and local elections. Section 4(b) contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to federal preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. Section 5 required certain states and local governments to obtain preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices.

Supreme Court Ruling

The 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder gutted key portions of the Voting Rights Act, which protected eligible voters from discriminatory voting laws. The court claimed those protections were no longer necessary. 

Voting Rights Improvements

Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019

The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 bill passed the House but not the Senate. It establishes new criteria for determining which states and political subdivisions must obtain preclearance before changes to voting practices in these areas may take effect. (Preclearance is the process of receiving preapproval from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before making legal changes that would affect voting rights.)

A state and all of its political subdivisions shall be subject to preclearance of voting practice changes for a 10-year period if (1) 15 or more voting rights violations occurred in the state during the previous 25 years; or (2) 10 or more violations occurred during the previous 25 years, at least one of which was committed by the state itself. A political subdivision as a separate unit shall also be subject to preclearance for a 10-year period if three or more voting rights violations occurred there during the previous 25 years.

A state or political subdivision that obtains a declaratory judgment that it has not used a voting practice to deny or abridge the right to vote shall be exempt from preclearance.

All jurisdictions must preclear changes to requirements for documentation to vote that make the requirements more stringent than federal requirements for voters who register by mail or state law.

The bill specifies practices jurisdictions meeting certain thresholds regarding racial minority groups, language minority groups, or minority groups on Indian land, must preclear before implementing. These practices include changes to methods of election, changes to jurisdiction boundaries, redistricting, changes to voting locations and opportunities, and changes to voter registration list maintenance.

The bill expands the circumstances under which (1) a court may retain the authority to preclear voting changes made by a state or political subdivision, or (2) the Department of Justice may assign election observers.

States and political subdivisions must notify the public of changes to voting practices.

The bill revises the circumstances under which a court must grant preliminary injunctive relief in a challenge to voting practices.

Expand Ballot Box Access and Curb special interests.

The "For the People Act," H.R. 1 is a sweeping package of voting, ethics and campaign finance reforms that passed the House entirely along party lines in March 2019. The bill would modernize voter registration, take aim at voter suppression and gerrymandering, strengthen ethics laws, expand lobbyist disclosure and inject new transparency, tougher limits and public money into campaign financing, among other measures.

Voting Rights Infringements

Since the Shelby County v. Holder decision Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin have enacted new voting restrictions.